Significant new European sanctions on Russia are expected, U.S. says

Karen DeYoung and Carol Morello

The Washington Post

Published: Monday, July 28 2014 7:30 p.m. MDT

July 22, 2014 - A pro-Russian rebel touches the MH17 wreckage at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, near the village of Hrabove, eastern Ukraine. Japan's top government spokesman said Monday, July 28 that the country is stepping up sanctions against Russia over the unrest in Ukraine.

Vadim Ghirda, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration expects Europe to adopt significant new sanctions against Russia this week, including against key economic sectors that the Europeans have resisted targeting in the past, the White House said Monday.

"In turn and in full coordination with Europe, the United States will implement additional measures itself" amid growing evidence that Russian President Vladimir Putin is "doubling down" on his efforts to support separatists battling the government in eastern Ukraine, deputy national security adviser Antony Blinken said.

Blinken's remarks came as heavy fighting moved closer to the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, in an area under separatist control.

The West has said that the airliner was downed with a Russian-supplied missile fired from separatist territory, and investigators from the Netherlands and Australia hope to make it to the site before evidence is destroyed. On Monday, however, the investigators were forced to turn back for a second day after hearing explosions and being warned of heavy combat in the area, where the Ukrainian military claimed significant advances against rebels.

Agreement on the sanctions followed a five-way video conference call between President Barack Obama and his counterparts from Britain, France, Germany and Italy — all of whom separately indicated that they would support additional measures against Russia. European Union ambassadors are scheduled to meet Tuesday in Brussels to consider an arms embargo and sanctions against portions of Russia's financial and energy sectors.

While agreement from leaders of Europe's four leading governments was seen as a major step forward, it remains unclear whether all 28 E.U. members — which operate on the basis of consensus — will support a new sanctions package drawn up late last week.

All had agreed to ready the package, to be imposed if there was evidence that Russia was expanding rather than withdrawing its support for the separatists.

On Sunday, the United States published overhead surveillance photographs it said proved that Russia was continuing to supply weapons and fire artillery from its own territory into Ukraine. Russia has also increased deployment of its forces along the Ukrainian border in possible preparation for a "so-called humanitarian or peacekeeping intervention in Ukraine," Blinken said.

"The latest information," a spokesman for British Prime Minister David Cameron said, is that "Russia continues to transfer weapons across the border and to provide practical support to the separatists. Leaders agreed that the international community should therefore impose further costs on Russia, and specifically. . . a strong package of sectoral sanctions as swiftly as possible."

The Obama administration has said it recognizes that Europe, with far larger economic relations with Russia, has more to lose than the United States. The new European sanctions package, while painful, has been carefully drawn to cause as little disruption as possible. An arms embargo would apply only to new contracts, a senior European diplomat said, allowing at least part of a massive French military shipbuilding contract to proceed.

But the downing of the airliner, and Moscow's refusal to yield in the face of previous sanctions, have strengthened the U.S. case that Europe must act.

Blinken, who spoke to reporters in the White House briefing room, said Russian support for the separatists has increased as they have lost ground.

Ukrainian forces said Monday that they had captured the separatist stronghold of Saur Mogila, where two Ukrainian planes were shot down last week. A military spokesman characterized the army's success there as a major victory, since it simultaneously blocks a supply route for rebels from Russia, opens a corridor for Ukraine to resupply its own troops and gives the military control of mountaintop positions used to fire on government forces.

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